Goodbye Czech Republic!

For three weeks now, the Czech Republic has closed its borders. Our US grantees were strongly urged by the Department of State to leave the Czech Republic and return to the US. For us, but especially for our grantees, it was a heartbreaking and a very emotionally-demanding time. Most of the grantees did not manage to say proper goodbyes to those they worked with and befriended in their cities. So, now, we share their Facebook posts from the past days, as well as reports from the colleagues who enjoyed working with them. Warning: you may get emotional!


An Average School Day

By Miriam Siroky (Fulbright Scholar’s daughter)

Dear Diary,

Today was quite an average school day. To be honest, I didn’t want to get out of bed, but I was excited to see my friends. I slowly got out of bed and ready for school, but I really didn’t really want to go outside, and started to imagine: “If only there was a zip line from my bed to the classroom…”

I really have nothing to complain about, since my whole commute takes less than oneminute by foot. Only when I sleep over at a friend’s house do I have a reason to complain about how long it takes to get to school, and it only makes me grateful to live so close to school. As my feet drag me through the two doors of the school, I start to question why I’m not in bed still, since it’s only 8. As the second door opens, I go straight to my locker, where I change my shoes, and put my jacket inside. After exiting the locker room, I head up the two flights of stairs to my classroom, where I see my friends! About a minute later, we are saying ‘not it’ for who needs to go for the keys (which are three flights of stairs up.) Usually, I am the one who gets the keys along with one of my friends.

Once we unlock the classroom, we can go and sit down in our seats. We each slowly take out Czech Language for our first period, then our pens and pencils. I also take out my phone to quickly text my friend in the seat next to me before class officially starts. As 8:30 comes around, our teacher comes in, and we put our phones away in our backpacks. Then our teacher says the words of horror: “Please take out Czech Language,” and the whole class sighs.

The class starts out with this seemingly innocent drill that kills your soul. It’s called a dictation. The teacher dictates a few sentences that have ONLY exceptions. Let me give an example. Czech grammar offers its speakers something called ‘Vyjmenovany slova,’ which is a bunch of words (about 30) that you need to memorize to determine which words have a ‘y’ as opposed to an ‘i’. Czech children have nightmares about it. On the first day of school, I recall when the teacher asked us to say ‘Vyjmenovany slova’. After some initial reluctance, all of my new friends repeated the list of words like robots.

After she dictates the first few sentences, we check for our mistakes, and turn it in again. When I started off this year, as a new student who had never been in a Czech school before, I had more than 20 mistakes in three or four sentences, but after doing it every week, I am now down to one or two mistakes per dictation. I think my teacher and even some of my friends are surprised. Most of all perhaps, I’m surprised.

After Czech Language, we have a break, as we do after every class. It’s incredible. Our teacher leaves the classroom; and in ten minutes, we manage to make an impressively BIG mess. The boys are usually fighting or pulling each other’s hair (although they don’t have much). Girls will often be talking, making a hair salon out of the classroom (which the boys hate), or doing some gymnastics from one side of the class to the other.

Then the second period – math - starts. When we work in our math books, there is always a race to see who will get it done first. Ester, my friend, usually wins, and I come in second. Most of the boys are quite slow. Once in a while, we will work in groups. But most of the time, we just help each other, even without being put into groups. Then the bell rings, and it’s BREAK again. And the whole thing starts over, until our next class: music.

I really enjoy music and especially singing. Sometimes, we sing Czech songs that are new to me. At other times, we sing English songs that are familiar to me. My favorite English song goes: “Go home! Nobody home, eat no, drink no, ever have I known. Everybody will be happy…” Once we sang “Twinkle little star”. Music is also a break from hard work, which important because, as I explain to my friends, “ I start off with 10 brain cells in the morning. Czech takes up 6, Math takes up 4, and when we have music they recharge.”

After Music, we have English. Or as my friends like to call “a break for Miri, my nickname” I really like our English teacher. We play a lot of games, and we also learn. My favorite game is “Guess the Word”. Someone has a piece of paper with a picture on it, and we have to guess it with a series of questions.

Then someone asks what our next subject is - and we all reply in a grumpy voice, “Czech.” As we start our second Czech class of the day, we get our dictations back from the first Czech class. If you make a mistake, then you have to use it in a sentence, explain why it’s a mistake and then rewrite it. It can take up to 20 minutes. Then we read. I am currently reading a book called “Prašina” that my friend, Sara, gave to me. I am really enjoying it because it’s an adventure, and I feel like I’m living through an adventure as well.

Then there’s lunch. We rush to get everything clean before we can head to the cafeteria. Even though no one is very fond of the food, there are always long lines for lunch. Our parents ‘pay for it’ with their money and we pay for it with our stomachs. When we’re done, we give our plates to the lunch lady. If we return less than an empty plate, we get a mean look that freaks every kid out. That’s for free.

When my friends and I finish lunch, we often all go to my apartment to hang out and do girls stuff, like dancing, making videos, hair styling, and pillow fights. Then my friends go home, and it's family time, dinner, homework and my bedtime routing. In addition to Czech and Math, which are everyday, we also have classes in History, Science, Hebrew Language, Jewish Education, Parsha, Physical Education and (my favorite) Art! On some days I have activities after school, like swimming, Aikido, Choir, flute lessons, and Torah study.

As I lay in bed, I can’t help thinking to myself what an amazing Fulbright life it is!


The Journey Is the Destination by Alec Travers

Last week was full of sudden decisions and twists in the lives of our grantees. Many of them had to pack up at short notice to go back home according to the changing announcements. One of them was our ETA, Alec. Read his moving farewell.

text by Alec Travers (Fulbright English Teaching Assistant)

As previously mentioned, due to worldly circumstances (see: Pandemic), I’m writing this farewell letter earlier than I was expecting to. My originally planed 10 months in the Czech Republic were cut short a few months, however, I would not like to further dwell on that missing time, but rather share appreciation and gratitude for the incredible 7 months I was so fortunate to have. It’s now been a week since my arrival back home to Roanoke, VA and in that time I have been trying to formulate the best farewells I could extend, to try and encapsulate my thanks to so many people and things that shaped my Fulbright experience.

To Tabor: Tabor, you are a beautiful city. Your cobblestone streets, pastel buildings, and beautiful geographic setting help tell the story of the 600 years of history you are celebrating this spring. When I first came to look at the town for a day in April last year, I didn’t yet see your charm. But after moving there in August, you quickly grew on me and became a home I was proud of and thankful to call my own. Your walkability, safety, and mystique will be something I hope to find in any other place that I live, and something I will always remember you for. I’m grateful to you for challenging me in ways that required me to grow as an individual and as an adult in times of uncertainty and adversity. I always enjoyed the opportunity of getting to show you off to people visiting me, and I will miss walking your streets as a resident.

To My Mentor, Jitka: From the first time I met you, I had a great feeling about you. Your poise and confidence were reassuring. As we exchanged emails during the summer months, our communication and your helpful suggestions made my departure from the US much less daunting. During the course of this year, you have been nothing short of a pleasure to work with and be around, as not only my mentor, but as my most trusted friend. You were a perfect mentor for me to be matched with, as you allowed me an abundance of autonomy and your trust from the beginning, which allowed me to thrive and grow. You constantly went out of your way to make sure I was included, comfortable, and felt at home in Tabor and as a faculty member at the school. You took on the role of my mentor voluntarily, without any type of incentive from the school or Fulbright program to compensate you for your efforts and time. I can’t thank you enough for your generosity.

To my school colleagues: Thank you for allowing me into your classrooms and your lives as an outsider, unfamiliar with Czech customs and lacking a formal educational background. From the time I was introduced to each of you face to face, your smiles and welcoming disposition made me feel comfortable and wanted. As teachers, you provided me with examples of how I could grow in my teaching abilities and competencies. Whether it be bringing me food you had prepared, working on special projects together, or as a team to defeat the students in the Christmas School Volleyball Tournament, I would not have had this great an experience without you. Everyone at school was such a pleasure to work with and your patience with me was not overlooked.

To my students: Our time together was cut short. However, that only increases how proud I am to have been your teacher during these past 7 months, and for all of the growth you made during our time together. I acknowledged from the beginning that English is a difficult language to learn, but I pushed you to push on, and I congratulate you for not giving up. Your curiosity in the United States and about my life brought us the opportunity to have fun lessons, covering a wide range of topics. I thank you all for your kindness, respect, and for making me feel at home and welcomed during my time in Tábor. Your participation during our time together and your hard work made me want to work hard for you. I also treasured the opportunity to learn from you. The Fulbright program is not one-sided; it is a mutual exchange of culture and I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to learn from you about your county’s incredible history and culture. Thank you for teaching me. I encourage each of you to not be afraid to make mistakes, and to truly believe that you have the power and the ability to achieve anything you set your mind to. Thank you for giving me pride in my work. I will greatly miss your smiles and hellos walking through the hallways.

To all my Tabor friends: You all are very different; in age, personality, race/gender, and yet, all of you impacted my experience in your own way. They say Czech people can be cold and uninterested in outsiders; I did not find that to be true. Sometimes it was an uplifting handshake in the gym, welcoming me into your home to join your family for a meal, laughs over pivo in the pub, bicycle rides around the Jordan, horseback rides through the forest, hockey games, taking me to get a haircut, explaining to me how things worked, and countless other memories we shared together. Thank you for gifting me with friendship and including me in a world I would have otherwise been isolated and alone in. I look forward to sharing more of these experiences with you at some point in the future.

To my loved ones and friends who came to visit: Moving somewhere by yourself, where you don’t know anyone, in an unfamiliar environment, with a language you don’t speak, is a difficult thing to do. There were times I was lonely and craved the interaction with other English speakers that I already had deep relationships with. Each of your visits brought me happiness, and something to look forward to. I learned you really can’t put a price on the feeling of being loved, whether by family or friends. It was fun for me to get to show you my city, my school, and my Czech life.

To the Czech Fulbright Commission: Thank you for all of your hard work. From the communication pre-arrival, to our first time all meeting, throughout the entirely of the program, I was blown away by your professionalism and management competencies. I have never worked in an environment that was this well run. I completely agree with the Embassy officials that on numerous occasions referred to the Czech Fulbright Commission as running the “gold standard” of Fulbright programs in the world. Specifically to my program officer, Kristyna, you were such an incredible resource to have and so great at your job. You are the type of colleague I would want on my team every time.

To my fellow Fulbright grantees: I was honored to be a part of such a prestigious group of people. Your intellect, experiences, and diversified backgrounds made you such interesting people to work alongside. I’m so thankful for the Fulbright program for giving 31 strangers the chance to come together to not only become friends, but work as a team to impact the world. I hope each of you will remember the power of positivity in your lives to come. Mark my words, this group will be full of exceptionally successful individuals. I look forward to the next chess game.

To my family and friends back home: Thank you for joining along with me during this journey. I am so grateful for your thoughts and prayers along the way; I needed each of them. It’s been a joy for me to get to share my stories, thoughts, and pictures with you for the last 2 years. Your feedback has made me consider continuing the blog in some capacity in the time to come. You forced me to remember that my experiences are not just solely mine, but that they can be shared and felt by others, no matter where they may be around the globe.

These 7 months have truly been an example of “the journey is the destination.” When I entered the program, I anticipated that I would feel a sense of growth and difference in my life by the scheduled conclusion date in June. However, I failed to realize that during each month, each week, and even each day, I was being subtly changed and impacted by each experience and the involvement of all of the countless people addressed above. My Fulbright experience was full of highs and lows, but I am so grateful for all of it. With mutual funding and support from the United States government and partnering countries all around the world, individuals like me have the opportunity to exchange culture, ideas, and learn how to work as a worldly team together to address our future. That teamwork is something we need now more than ever.


Alec Travers


To Stay or Not to Stay, That Is the Question...

In the last few days, the Czech Republic has been experiencing major changes day by day. Every day, the government is tightening measures to win the stuggle against the coronavirus. There are closed restaurants, most shops, but mainly schools and universities. Our grantees have faced a major challenge this week. To go or not to go home to the USA.

In this post we are sharing some of the touching confessions of our grantees who have been faced with the big question of whether to stay or to go in recent days. Read about Alanna, Anya and Jubilee's decisions in this post.

This text was written by Alanna Powers (current English Teaching Assistant)

Family, friends, students, and everyone in between: 

The past 24 hours, have been, without a doubt, the hardest of my life. If you’ve been keeping up with the news, the Czech Republic is closing its borders on Sunday, allowing only citizens and those with long-term residency (that’s me) the option to stay. No one will have the option to leave come Sunday night for an unspecified amount of time. This basically left me with an ultimatum: leave my Fulbright grant three and a half months early without saying goodbye, or stay, not knowing when I can leave again. 

This felt like an impossible choice. There are so many unknowns on each side of the ocean. That being said, after a lot of talks with family and close friends I have decided to stay in the Czech Republic in hopes that things will return to normal and I will be able to resume life as planned in a month or so. The Czech government has been very proactive with the situation; placing restrictions on almost every activity. Currently the only things that are open are grocery stores and pharmacies. This gives me hope that the situation will be under control quickly and efficiently.

Of course, I am still a little scared. A decision could be made at any moment that would force me to leave quickly and with little guidance. The fact that as of tomorrow there isn’t a clear way to get back home is unsettling. However going home to quarantine with no plan and little current opportunity to move forward due to the worsening situation would be even more difficult for me.

I have an amazing support network in this wonderful little town of Dvůr and throughout the Czech Republic. A wonderful, caring mentor whose family has become like a second family to me, a professor who has offered up any kind of support I should need, and multiple other friends and colleagues who have said they will be there for me throughout this time of uncertainty.

The truth is no one can predict the future. Maybe my decision is too hopeful and naive. Maybe life will return to normal in a month or so and I’ll be so thankful that I’ve stayed. Maybe it won’t. However I feel in my heart and in my head that I’ve made the choice that is right for me.

To my students: Well, if you’ve read this whole thing then you’ve definitely practiced your English for the day! I am working with your teachers to set up some online conversation lessons as well as to help them mark any work you may be sent. You’ve brought more light and joy to my life than you know and I so hope we will see each other again soon.

To my friends and family: thank you so much for your support, especially to all of you who’ve checked in on me. I’ll continue to keep you updated as much as possible.

This isn’t going to be a “fun” time for anyone, anywhere in the world. However it is something that we will get through, together as humans who are connected through love and compassion for one another.

I’m so grateful for the opportunity that Fulbright has given me, it’s really been once in a lifetime. Of course the rest of the grant will be much different than it has been, but it will be its own type of adventure, and it’s one that I’m ready for.

this text was written by Jubilee Marshall (current English Teaching Assistant)

To my friends, family, and students,

I am safely back in the United States, but feels wrong to say that I have made it home — not because I’m not happy to be back with my parents and dog in Washington D.C., but because it was so unbelievably difficult to leave my home in Polička. 

Although I know it was the right decision, given the closure of the Czech borders and the order I received from the U.S. State Department to return to America, I am devastated that I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye to everyone in person. 

To my colleagues, 
thank you for making me feel so welcome in our school. I felt so safe and cared for knowing that there were people looking out for me, and that there would always be friendly faces in the staffroom. 

To my students, please know that I am so impressed by you. 
I was so lucky to have been blessed with such bright, curious, and hardworking students, and I know that you all will do great things in the future. I hope that I can be involved in your online lessons in the next few months, but I also want you to know that I am always happy to chat with you at any time. 

Please send me a message here, or on Instagram (@jubesmarsh), if you ever want to talk. 
Maybe I’ll even try out some Czech 🙂 
Thanks to everyone who made Polička feel like my home. 
I know I will be back soon. 

Love, Jubilee

This text was written by Anya Fairchild (current English Teaching Assistant)

Originally this blog post was supposed to be about my spring break travels to London and Vienna, but though I was in those magnificent cities just a week ago, my trip feels further from reality than anything else. Yesterday, the U.S. government advised all Fulbright grantees in the Czech Republic to travel back to the United States as quickly as possible. Yesterday we were also notified that after Sunday night, the Czech borders would close and it would become extremely difficult to get back home. Over half of my fellow grantees are attempting to get out of the country right now, even as many of their flights have been cancelled or overbooked. Meanwhile, I have decided to stay in the Czech Republic in the hopes that within the next few months things will return to some semblance of normalcy. 

Though I’m still in the same country, I came back from spring break to what felt like a completely different one. The day I arrived, I was told that I would need to stay in home quarantine and so I have had to remain alone in my flat for nearly a week now. For the first couple days of my quarantine, this meant missing classes, but since then all Czech primary and secondary schools have been closed. At this point there are many other regulations in place. No gatherings of thirty or more people may be held and all businesses are closed besides essentials like grocery stores, pharmacies, and gas stations. 

So what to do now? I’ve been reading, cleaning, studying Czech, working out, and keeping track of what feels like a million serious updates a minute. By next week, I should be able to interact with other people in a distanced sort of way, and I already have plans to meet up with some small groups of students. As the schools transition to an online format, I hope to be of assistance with some sort of online teaching as well. My hope is that I’ll be able to still return to the U.S. in July as planned and that there are still some amazing experiences to be had here. 

For those who are curious, though, my spring break trip really was wonderful and well worth my current quarantined state. One of my best friends flew over to Europe from the US in order to travel with me, and we took full advantage of it. We saw all the major sights of London (Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Tower of London, the Globe, etc) and received an incredible tour from our mutual friend in Oxford (gorgeous colleges, the pub where C.S. Lewis and Tolkien used to meet, Harry Potter filming locations, etc). We then took a relaxing day in rural Czech Republic before spending our last few days in Vienna, seeing beautiful architecture, tasting famous dishes, and biking to the Danube River. Throughout the week, we saw a Broadway show, went to a comedy club, drank tons of tea, tried many fun foods and drinks, spent way too much money, and had an absolute blast. I am so incredibly thankful that my break wasn’t just one week later and that my friend and I were able to travel back smoothly and safely. 

To everyone out there, keep your spirits up, do your part, stay healthy, and spread joy not germs <3 Wishing you all the best!


Jeden den Fulbrightisty Jarona Tomaštíka na Virginia Tech

Napsal Mgr. Jan Tomáštík, Ph.D. z Přírodovědecké fakulty Univerzity Palackého v Olomouci ze Společné laboratoře optiky, který momentálně působí na Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University v Blacksburgu ve Virginii.

Otevírám rozespalé oči a rychle vyhrávám nekonečný souboj s budíkem. Díky tomu neprobudím mou ženu, která si díky medikaci pospí trochu déle. Snažím se chytit trendy života ve Virginii, takže si z krabice sypu americké vločky do amerického mléka a v americky obrovském dvoupatrovém bytě se připravuji na další den vědátora v USA.

Pracovat ve vědě má i své nevýhody – prokletí, že nikdy nevypnete mozek a nikdy nemáte doděláno. Ale velkou výhodou naopak je, že máte práci jako hobby, a vaším denním chlebem je vždycky aspoň špetka nového poznání. S vědou se navíc pojí cestování. Dříve díky konferencím a tréninkům, nyní díky vědecké spolupráci jsem už pobyl v Británii i na největším teleskopu na planetě v Argentině. Cílem vědce musí být neustrnout a nestagnovat – a hlavně proto jsem před rokem napnul síly a přihlásil jsem se o Fulbright-Masarykovo stipendium. Právě díky němu se nyní probouzím za oceánem na ročním vědeckém pobytu na Virginia Tech.

Zdejší maloměstský Blacksburg není typické americké město z představ Evropana, a to je jen dobře. Hustá autobusová síť doveze člověka kamkoliv po univerzitním kampusu i mimo něj. Moje výzkumné středisko sídlí na okraji města.

Je pátek, ale na výzkum to nemá moc vliv. Jedna ze dvou ranních schůzek s mou šéfovou, profesorkou materiálové chemie, proběhla už včera, takže dnes mi tempo určuje především volné okno u přístrojů. Je nás v týmu osm – směsku místních, indických, čínských a korejských studentů okořeňuje jeden Čech. Všichni se o místo u mašin, přesněji u tří vysokoteplotních pecí, musíme poprat.

Můj výzkum sice nejde zrovna po másle, ale to už je úděl objevování nových materiálů i zkoumání nových využití pro materiály známé. Laboratoř mě kromě kanonády "Hi, how are you?" ve všech možných přízvucích vítá pachem rozpouštědel. Na ruce nasazuji slušivé gumové rukavice, na uši sluchátka a začínám dle zápisků z předchozího dne připravovat snad úspěšnější směs polymerů než včera. Zkouška, omyl, náprava, další zkouška – takhle vypadá všední tvář vědy.

Experimenty přeruším pozdním obědem krabičkového typu a volnější čas využiji pro svou další velkou vášeň – popularizaci vědy. Banda neskutečně šikovných studentů v olomouckém spolku UP Crowd si už dávno dokáže zorganizovat své aktivity i beze mě, přesto ale přispěji alespoň radou po síti. Až po návratu se snad víc zapojím do výjezdů na střední i základní školy. Momentálně proto napínám více sil do stránky Vědátor, kde se s kolegou - publicistou a dalšími popularizátory snažíme psát články i točit videa o vědě zábavněji, než je zvykem, aniž bychom obětovli hloubku.

Odpoledne se mezi popularizačními statusy, toluenem, ethanolem i acetonem rychle přehoupne do večera. Dnešní poloúspěchy i slepé cesty zapíšu do zápisníku a mizím ven. V Česku jsem často v labině zůstával do nočních hodin, tady si ale člověk musí víc hlídat duševní zdraví. Dnešní konec pracovního týdne je navíc výjimečný.

Moje žena uplynulé měsíce kromě hledání práce využila i k tvorbě akrylových obrazů pro rozvíjející se uměleckou dráhu. Večer začíná její výstava. Z práce se tak zodpovědně přesouvá celá mezinárodní suita i s profesorkou podpořit v útulné galerii její téma "umění a psychologické poruchy". Sama s jednou takovou bojuje a medikace jí pomáhá běžný život výrazně usnadnit.

Středoevropskou duši ale ani za velkou louží nezapřeme – a tak si tenhle sváteční den zaslouží zakončení zlatavým mokem & bublinkovou limonádou. Další den v Americe je za námi a než se za pět měsíců vrátíme domů, hodláme zdejší příležitosti ještě pořádně chytit za pačesy.

Fulbright-Masarykovo stipendium podporuje dlouhodobé pobyty českých doktorandů, vědců a vysokoškolských pedagogů v USA, aby prováděli výzkum. Program je určen vědeckým pracovníkům, kteří jsou nejenom vynikajícími odborníky ve své vědecké oblasti ale současně jsou aktivní v občanském nebo veřejném životě svých institucí nebo komunit.


Masopust: A Spring Fever Dream Festival

by Madison Kambic (current English teaching Assistant in Ostrava)

I had the privilege of attending one of the strangest culture-bomb events I have ever seen in my life.

What is Masopust? The way my Czech friend-of-a-friend explained it to me was this: it’s a three-in-one festival in early spring. It’s a combination of Czech Mardi Gras, a welcoming of the spring season, and the beginning of a “fertility” period.

I hadn’t planned to attend, but I found myself in Prague with an invite and nothing else planned for that day. I arrived at the festival with a few other Fulbrighters; three scholars and myself as an English Teaching Assistant. Also joining us was a group of NYU students and their Czech professor, Matej, for the festival.

What first got me curious was the amount of people on the train to the festival. We were only travelling three stops from a smaller Prague station, but the train was 
p a c k e d with people. Almost everyone was wearing a costume. There wasn’t a central theme; whatever you could find or make would fit. Not wanting to be left out, I took my headband from my pocket, plucked a few leaves off of a bush, and stuck them in to be a forest fairy. Among the costumes, we saw multiple elves, cats, musicians, angels, devils, and chickens.

So. Many. Chickens. (More on that soon).

Upon arriving at the fairgrounds, we surveyed the surroundings. There were several small children pulling wagons behind them selling kolaches (small pastries and cakes) for 10-50 Czech crowns (about $0.50-$2.00). What also shocked me were the giant costumes people had. We saw a chicken, moth, and a polar bear. I assumed people had made these just for the festival, but apparently you could go into a building nearby and rent one for free for the day. A few of our NYU friends got some giant chicken heads made of papier-mâché and joined in the fun. These giant chicken heads became our beacon in the crowd to find our way to each other if we got separated.

One detail I want to note was the polar bear costume. It was huge, maybe twelve feet tall, and many women were walking up to it. I went to join in, but Matej stopped me.

“Madison, they say if you dance with the bear, you will be pregnant within the next year.”

I paused. I quickly decided that staying put and sipping my drink would be a better idea than embracing the bear.

After walking and talking for a bit, the crowd started to shift. We began walking up a spiraling path to the other end of the small town. We were going to meet two other villages who were participating in the same Masopust for a final gathering at sunset. Once again, this was one of the most unusual events I have ever attended. Hundreds of singing people, dressed in any costume imaginable, meandering their way through this town in a parade.

We made our way to a giant field, where we stopped at snack stalls for frgál (cheese and poppyseed cake). Then, we continued walking to another field, where we finally met up with the other two villages.

So there I am, standing in the middle of a muddy field with multiple chicken heads surrounding me as bush branches scratch my face, watching the sun lower in a fiery sunset. I’m surrounded by at least a thousand other people, when we start to grab hands with one another and slowly back up to make a circle.

We continue moving backwards. The circle is growing larger and wider and farther, until my arms are stretched tight and everyone is half screaming, half laughing. Then, we run.

Everyone sprints to the middle of the giant circle we made and starts jumping, yelling, laughing, and dancing. All people young and old are joining the fun. I have no idea what’s happening or what the announcer is screaming into her megaphone. But I love it.

We start to form another circle where we are each given a paper bag to inflate. I inflate my bag and stand at the ready. We watch several parties come into the center, including a man in a horse costume, multiple girls in traditional folk dresses with brooms, a couple on stilts, and the announcer.

At this point, the sun has set and it’s dark. The circle is lit by flashlights and string lights within the giant costumes. The announcer starts spouting a tale in Czech to everyone, one of which I imagine tells about the welcoming of spring. She’s talking to the horse. The girls are dancing. The couple on stilts are prancing around. The announcer continues announcing. Then, she looks at the crowd, everyone gets their paper bags ready, and at her command, we pop them simultaneously.

Tragically, the horse falls to the ground as we have “killed” him. The girls start dancing their way out of the crowd. The couple on stilts leaves. Then, magically, our announcer coos at the horse and he arises from the dead. Everyone shouts for joy, and the dancing begins again.

I frolic around the field with mud in my shoes and giant chicken beaks to my left and right. It was certainly not how I had planned the day to go, but I was very glad it did.

The festival ended shortly after. We walked back to the bus station and returned the costumes. I then woefully removed my branches, and spoke with the scholars and NY students.

“This was one of the craziest and coolest fever-dream things I’ve ever been to. I’m going to remember it for the rest of my life,” remarked one of the students.

Yeah, me too.